The NFL head-coaching cycle will soon be revving up. Already there are permanent job vacancies in Las Vegas and Carolina, and league sources anticipate anywhere from four to six more jobs coming open once we get to 2024.
Team owners have been inclined to fill those jobs with offensive-minded head coaches in recent years. Since Feb. 3, 2020, 22 head coaches have been hired and 14 have offensive backgrounds.
But a constant churn at the offensive coordinator position in recent years has left the league with an issue -- one that could rear its head in a few weeks as NFL owners look to fill their top jobs with offensive-minded head coaches.
"There aren't enough offensive guys to fill the spots," one well-known coaching agent told CBS Sports.
"People are reaching on the offensive side," one personnel executive said. "There's not enough out there."
The NFL may be about to experience a reap-what-you-sow situation at offensive coordinator. NFL teams have made 106 changes at the offensive coordinator position in the eight years leading up to this season. (That's compared to 85 changes at defensive coordinator in the same time period.)
"This extremely high turnover rate ... is not ideal from a player development or career trajectory and sustainability perspective," reads the most recent diversity and inclusion report the league produces each year.
Going into the 2023 regular season, the average length of time for an NFL offensive coordinator is only 1.2 seasons in the current position.
Sixteen offensive coordinators entered this season in the first year in the post. Another nine were going into their second season. So the league has 25 offensive coordinators with no more than two seasons of experience in their current gigs.
Sources across the league agree that Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is the hottest coaching candidate this cycle. He could wind up getting multiple offers a year after deciding to return to Detroit as a sought-after coach.
But after Johnson, sources say there's no obvious offensive-minded coach who's a shoe-in for a job. Callahan, Eric Bieniemy (Commanders), Kellen Moore (Chargers), Frank Smith (Dolphins), Brian Johnson (Eagles) and Bobby Slowick (Texans) are among offensive coordinators who could get interviews, and some of them may even get head-coaching jobs. But the point remains that the pool of candidates isn't as deep as years past.
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NFL owners have been hesitant to go with defensive-minded coaches in recent years thanks to a league that has been consumed with offensive fireworks. The thinking goes that teams with defensive-minded coaches will have to constantly hire new offensive coordinators when the latest successful one leaves for a top job. And that regular stocking of the cupboard will eventually catch up to the team.
"That's a rich-person problem," another well-known coaching agent said, referring to the fact that such offensive success would have likely led to postseason success and perhaps a lucrative contract extension.
This upcoming cycle could see the return of the defensive-minded head coach. Or, perhaps inspired by the success of Dan Campbell, the "leader of men" type of coach.
Teams that may be pegged to go offense after Black Monday may very well find their best options are on the defensive side.
There are several strong candidates serving as defensive coordinators today. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks both have their units playing some of the best ball in the league, and both men have been head coaches before. Quinn nearly won a Super Bowl with the Falcons, and the passage of time has helped bolster Wilks' tenures in Arizona and in Carolina last year as the interim head coach.
"They had a culture established there with Steve in Carolina," one league source said. "Now they have nothing."
Lou Anarumo (Bengals), Aaron Glenn (Lions), Raheem Morris (Rams) and Mike Macdonald (Ravens) are also considered to be candidates this cycle. Former Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who took a year off from coaching after stunningly not receiving one head-coaching interview last cycle, has been deserving of another opportunity and is an eligible candidate this year as well.
Today the league is seeing the consequences of the actions over the past years. The constant churn at offensive coordinator throughout the NFL has helped contribute to a lack of slam-dunk candidates.
And in an offseason where a quarter of the league may be looking for a new head coach, perhaps the right leader is standing on the other side of the ball.